Right on the Money: You Get What You Pay for When You Hire a Volunteer Coordinator
Each year, hundreds of volunteer tutors, trainers, fundraisers, painters, handypersons and gardeners keep programs running smoothly and facilities in tip-top shape at Project for Pride in Living, a social service agency in Minneapolis, MN.
That donated time is worth a lot to PPL: about $21 an hour per volunteer, according to a recent estimate of the value of volunteer time in Minnesota. But while the pro bono services of neighbors can save youth-serving organizations money, volunteers can also drain staff time and energy or drop out because they don’t feel appreciated.
To get around those problems, many charities turn to paid volunteer coordinators. Managing all the helping hands at PPL takes not one but two full-time staff members. In consultation with program staff, they determine what support departments need then recruit, train and assign volunteers.
“Our staff wouldn’t be able to [manage a volunteer program] and serve people at the level they’re serving them at without coordinators,” says Laura Bohen, who oversees PPL’s AmeriCorps and youth-program volunteers.
Coordinators also keep volunteers from feeling like they’ve been thrown to the wolves. “Many of them have never worked with youth before or they have but in different capacities,” says Sara Iragorri, who manages special events and communications at the Mentoring Partnership of New York and serves on the New York Association for Volunteer Administration’s board. A volunteer manager, she says, has interviewed every volunteer, knows each one’s skills set, and can place them in (and train them for) the position that best enables them to forward the organization’s mission.
If you’re starting a formal volunteer program, hiring a coordinator is a good first step. Here are some key qualifications and skills to look for:
Knowledge of and experience with nonprofits and volunteering. Volunteer coordinators need a good grounding in the values and budget constraints of the nonprofit world. Coordinators also must understand what fulfills volunteers and gets them to stick with an organization. Bohen, who served in AmeriCorps, suggests looking for a veteran of charity work, volunteering or national service.
Communication and customer service skills. A volunteer coordinator must make your cause known and win over potential volunteers, who may also be future donors or board members. Ask yourself of candidates, “Are they someone you’d want to use as your face for the organization?” Iragorri says. A candidate who speaks eloquently and listens well during the job interview, calls or e-mails to follow up, and has experience working with a wide range of people likely has the skills to be a good volunteer coordinator, she says. Coordinators have to be attentive to the needs of volunteers and staff, respond promptly to e-mails and phone calls, resolve disputes, and make time for volunteers when they just want to talk.
Events planning experience. Coordinators plan happy hours to recruit volunteers and awards luncheons to thank them. Look for someone who has planned large and small events and managed committees.
Training experience. Volunteers who receive proper training and orientation from the get-go are more likely to stay on, Iragorri says. And training guarantees that volunteers, like staff, give families and youth the highest level of service. Look for someone who has teaching, curriculum design, training or public speaking experience and is comfortable designing and running training sessions that last anywhere from an hour to several days.